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‘Democracy allows for reasonable restriction’ – President of CCJ on third term Decision

President of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Sir Dennis Byron said setting restrictions on who can become president and how long a president can serve is democracy at work.

Today, the CCJ overruled the High Court and Court of Appeal in their ruling which had found amendments to Article 90 of Guyana’s Constitution as unconstitutional.

The judgement comes after Attorney General Basil Williams S.C, appealed a ruling by former Chief Justice Ian Chang which was upheld by the Court of Appeal.

Three years ago, private citizen Cedric Richardson challenged that Act No. 17 of 2001 was unconstitutional and diminished the level of democracy enjoyed by an electorate inherent in Articles 1 and 9, among other things.

The Act was passed following bipartisan constitutional reform back in 2000. It outlined the amendments of the qualifications for elections which essentially restricted non-Guyanese from running for president; stated that a presidential candidate must be in Guyana on Nomination Day and a president can only serve two terms.

The initial ruling by the former Chief Justice posited, among other things, the presidential term-limit was unconstitutional without the approval of the people through a referendum.

Sir Dennis said all the judges of the Court were in agreement that Articles 1 and 9 could be altered, however, the majority decision, 6-1, found Act No 17 of 2001 was validly enacted.

Sir Dennis concluded the premise that Articles 1 and 9 implied an unlimited right to choose the head of state was not obvious. “The establishment of qualifications for the position of president was normal in democratic constitutions and does not diminish substantive voters choice,” Sir Dennis said.

The CCJ’s President noted the qualifications for office: citizenship, residence and term limits were clearly addressed by the amendments put forward in Act No 17 of 2001.

“It was clear from the history of the amendments that they did not emerge from the desire of any political party to manipulate the presidency according to its agenda,” Sir Byron said.

Sir Dennis concluded that the amendments laid out in the Act were a single item in a suite of constitutional amendments designed to reflect the evolving democracy in Guyana.

The 1999 Constitutional Reform Commission had conducted nationwide consultations in Guyana to make the Constitution more relevant to the needs of citizens and reduce racial and political tensions in the country.

By: Tiffny Rhodius.

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